Scholarly Communications Project


ONLINE SUPPORT GROUPS: EXTENDING COMMUNITIES OF CONCERN

by

Susan L. Eaglesham

Dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Virginia Tech in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

in

FAMILY AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT: MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPY

Approved

Joyce A. Arditti, Chair
Scott W. Johnson
Howard O. Protinsky
Michael J. Sporakowski
Claire Cole Vaught

September 18, 1996
Blacksburg, Virginia


Abstract

Using survey data from 75 participants in computer self-help groups, variables were identified which theoretically indicate that computer self- help groups function similarly to face-to-face self-help groups.This exploratory research provided demographic information which allows users of computer self-help groups to be more clearly described. The findings of this study indicated that computer group users perceived similar benefits of use to people in traditional self-help groups. Study participants also perceived certain benefits from computer group use not found in traditional face-to-face groups. Among these were the convenience of use, anonymity, and the benefits of writing as a way to connect to others. The findings indicated that computer groups provided a unique context in which new beliefs and ideas about problems can be constructed. The findings were interpreted to indicate that there are certain risks involved in computer group use of which mental health professionals and potential users need to be cognizant. Finally, several areas for possible future study are discussed.

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